Erasure’s Violet Flame

18 09 2014

Erasure - Violet Flame (Photo Shoot)K, synthpop whores! It’s Erasure time again. For a lot of people, the release of a new album by a veteran band means, ‘Oh, fuck! All three remaining members of the Beatles are getting back together again to record…a re-recording of a 1994 compilation of…their number-one hits from, um, the 1960s, which is the only decade they made music!’ So, basically, nothing new.

Erasure are not like that. They consistently release a new album once every two to three years, often with delicious re-releases interspersed with new, original material, and re-inventing their style of synthpop with the latest producers. Most bands that originated in the ’80s can’t boast that, even if some rapper is using a synthesiser riff from their main hit in their latest song.

Erasure’s new album is a masterwork of electronic dance pop. And I say this as a hardcore fan who has criticised the band in the past for producing work which could be judged as marginal because it relied too much on trends in acoustic folk rock (which I deplore). This is entirely different:

My least-favourite album (Loveboat) was highly synthesised, well-written, well-thought-out, and expertly executed. So I am speaking in relative terms.

The band’s two previous albums, Light At The End Of The World and Tomorrow’s World (minus the Christmas album released last year) were very good and had very coherent, well-written dance anthems, but if we are talking about coherent, well-written dance anthems, The Violet Flame blows them out of the water. It is absolutely majestic in its scope. The lead singer, Andy Bell, boasts an incredibly fluid and nimble voice, synthesiser wizard Vince Clarke creates the most beautifully subtle, lush synthesiser arrangements, Andy Bell Erasureand producer Richard X polishes it off with his own HI-NRG take. The result is the perfect melodic dance-pop album.

Let’s talk about songs. ‘Under The Waves’ immediately stands out as an infectious bubblegum tune. It is the catchiest song I have heard in years. ‘Oh-oooh-oh-oooh-oh’, goes the chorus, on and on, against a thick, up-and-down italo-disco bassline. Also notable is the tune ‘Sacred’, which celebrates the extent to which love will realise itself. The most infectious and important of these transcendent dance songs, though, is the sinister and roiling ‘Paradise’. It is all about throwing away everything anybody thought about you and following your passion. It is about being true to yourself. And it’s a dance anthem! To me, this is perfection.

The Violet Flame is perhaps the best dance album I have ever heard. I hate most club mixes—they sound boring and monotonous to me. This album offers dance music that satisfies several important criteria: lyricism, melody, danceability, content. It is lyrical, melodic, danceable, and offers remotely intelligible insight into modern-day relationships and social issues. Erasure have outdone themselves with this album.

 

 

 

 





Review of the Vampire Film ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’

14 09 2014

It is Only Lovers Left Alive - Posterone of the most striking films I have ever seen. Vampires Eve and Adam re-unite after a few decades, and the younger sister, Ava, tries to shatter their dreams by acting like a no-good Angelena. The premise is bizarre, yet fascinating.

Eve and Adam text about Adam’s depression, and she, the ever-sprightly one, decides to travel from her base in Tangier to his place in Detroit, where she attempts to soothe him. Everything is weird—she is texting her lover on an iPhone via her Moroccan boudoir, which is decorated in embroidered fabrics and is probably suffused with various exotic scents. Gold, blue, and white are the main colours. He is consumed in a mess of guitars and violins in a decaying Detroit mansion.

Eve and Adam are humane vampires who acquire blood by bribing hospital staff and local friends to quench their thirst. They have no desire to feed on humans unless necessary. Much like modern-day human vegans refuse to consume animal products unless necessary. Until Eve’s younger sister, Ava, arrives and starts acting like a total douche-bag. "only lovers left alive"She drinks Adam’s musical assistant to death, and Eve and Adam have to dispose of his corpse in a vat of acid somewhere in an abandoned building in Detroit.

After kicking Ava out on her own, Eve and Adam decide to return to Eve’s favourite place—Tangier. Unfortunately, Tangier is infected with contaminated blood. Even Eve’s reliable source of blood—Marlowe—lies dying of contaminated blood. Eve delicately lays her hand on the head of his human care-taker. It is actually a quite moving scene.

The last scene is amazing. Since Marlowe and his special source of blood are gone, Eve and Adam are forced to walk the streets ofOnly Lovers Left Alive - Last Scene Tangier, seeking a source of blood. They are starving. Eve in particular catches the scent of blood. It is a couple making out. She convinces Adam to turn them. He acquiesces. The look in their glassy eyes is disturbing.

Only Lovers Left Alive is amazing not only because it is so cryptic and peaceful, but also because it forces the viewer to re-imagine the vampire as a creature with human emotions. After all, humans are just cattle in the eyes of the vampire.

 





Men Are from Earth, Women Are from Earth

28 03 2014

John Gray Women Venus Men MarsRemember the whole ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ craze that swept the ’90s? Some people still believe in it. I consider it the bilgewater of popular myth. I view it as part of a larger machine in which right-wing conspiracy theorists enshrine old-fashioned ideas about gender difference through pop-culture vehicles like John Gray and Leonard Sax. Even the paranormal radio programme CoasttoCoastAM invites John Gray as a regular guest, but not people who disagree with him.

The notion that male and female brains are fundamentally different has been challenged by neuroscientist Gina Rippon, of Aston University in Birmingham, England. Rippon does not claim that male and female brains are the same—she claims that they are different because of environmental influences. In other words, she suggests, everything children learn, and everything they absorb from their youngest years, informs their concepts of gender. Isn’t that a pioneering concept? Cordelia Fine echoes the same ideas in her acclaimed book Delusions of GenderHowever, there are armchair theorists in every family who want to slap down anybody who rocks the uncomfortably comfortable boat.

At the core of Rippon’s argument is the concept of brain plasticity. She points out studies which show that the brains of London taxi-cab drivers changed after they acquired knowledge of the streets and landmarks of London. After an extended period of time, the cab drivers had created new neural networks to meet the demands of the environment. The point is that the brain is not just a ready-made piece of meat, but a tool to meet the needs of the user. Just as a Gina Rippon Brain Male Female Gender Sex Differencetaxi-cab driver moulds her brain to fit the streets of London, a young boy moulds his brain to suit the needs of an exacting stepfather. That stepfather might try to shut down dolls in a boy, or he might try to shut down cars in a girl.

It is important to note that criticisms of the gender binary do not preclude the fact of transgender identity. Just as any cisgender person identifies with one or another gender, so does a transgender person. Gender is a spectrum, and transgender people can claim any space a cisgender person does along this spectrum (or wagon-wheel/Venn diagram, as I like to think of it).

The point is that it is wrong to assign roles on the basis of gender identity. I understand that in sports we assign roles to traditionally feminine or masculine physiques–like football–but that is an exception. And besides, even then, don’t ‘women’ have a better sense of balance and a better track record of completing long-distance treks? So why do we judge ‘male’ abilities better than ‘female’ ones? All of that aside, we need to form a better standard for treating people on the basis of their gender. Because the fake idea of equality, that men are from Mars, and women are from Venus–without allowing women what men have–constitutes an insult to everybody’s intelligence.





8 Reasons Why Transphobia Makes No Sense

22 11 2013

Transgender Man Evon YoungTransgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) was 20 November, but I didn’t post this blog entry in time. Ironically, it has allowed me to cull from the Web information that was only available on the day itself. It has allowed me to calculate the shocking cost in human terms of hatred toward transgender people.

**Trigger warning for graphic description of violent crime**

It has allowed me to acknowledge the horrifying fact that Evon Young, a 22 year-old rapper from Milwaukee, was suffocated, beaten, and shot before being dismembered and set ablaze.

Transphobia is abhorrent in all its forms, but it takes on a new shape when it involves class and race. Many victims of transphobia are poor, black, and utterly lacking in social or financial resources. That’s enough Carmen Carrerato think about in itself.

Compassion is key to ending transphobia—there is nothing more needed than an understanding soul—but I also find it helpful to challenge transphobes with reason (of which compassion is the keystone). Thus, I offer eight reasons why transphobia makes no sense. If this doesn’t sway you, I don’t know what will.

1. Transgender people challenge gender stereotypes

This is a classic argument used against transgender people by the religious right-wing. Yes, they do challenge gender stereotypes. So, what? What is wrong with a person offending your sense of the way males or females should appear or behave? You don’t have the right to restrict another person’s rights just because of your ideas about gender.

2. Transgender people reinforce gender stereotypes

This is the reverse of the supposedly ‘conservative’ stance. It states that transgender people are sexist because they reify ideas about gender. For example, a transgender man might cut his hair short and wear pants. How is this any different from anything a cisgender man might do? If you can blame the transgender man for Chaz Bono Cherstereotyping, you also have to blame the cisgender man for stereotyping. There is no difference. This attitude suggests that cisgender men can get away with being masculine, while transgender men can’t. Vice-versa for transgender women and cisgender women. If a cisgender woman can get away with growing long hair without being seen as sexist, why can’t a transgender woman? As long as cisgender people maintain gender stereotypes, they are in no place to judge transgender people for doing the same. We all live in the same milieu of gender-crap.

3. It’s unnatural

Of course this is bullshit. As I stated in 8 Reasons Why Homophobia Makes No Sense, just because something is natural does not make it right, and just because something is unnatural does not make it wrong. Clearly cutting hair is unnatural, but how many people create an uproar over that? Likewise, not Amanda Simpsoncutting your hair is natural, and few people create an uproar over that. So even if being transgender were unnatural, the appeal to nature argument is a fallacy. A thing doesn’t have to be natural in order to be valid.

4. Transgender people reduce people to their genitals

As opposed to cisgender people?? The argument is that transgender people reduce people to their genitals because they fixate on gender reassignment surgery. First, not all transgender people seek gender reassignment surgery—some transgender men can give birth, and some transgender women don’t want penectomies; second, so what if they did? There’s nothing wrong with wanting different genitals. It isn’t a fucking gender statement; it’s them realising themselves. In addition, some cisgender women undergo hysterectomies and mastectomies, and there are post-menopausal women, but we don’t say they are no longer women. Why should we say the same about transgender women? Why should cisgender women care so much about their anatomy, but not transgender women?

5. Genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation is an horrific crime against humanity in which all manner of mutilations are Trans Mancommitted against women and girls for the sake of the virginity, marriageability, social acceptance, and suppression of desire among women and girls, often with dire physical consequences. It is an abhorrent act that no cultural relativist can justify. It has nothing whatsoever to do with gender reassignment surgery. People who seek gender reassignment surgery do so voluntarily—and often at great cost—to fulfil their needs. It is absolutely wrong to equate FGM to transgender people seeking gender reassignment surgery.

6. Transgender women are dicks in disguise

There is this weird idea among some members of what is called the radical-feminist movement that transgender women are really men disguising as women to infiltrate the sacred sisterhood and violate them. Ugh. First of all, if you believe in gender ambiguity, how does somebody who’s fighting for their right to be recognised as a woman threaten you? Second, if a transgender woman has undergone sexual reassignment surgery, how can she do anything to you that any other woman hasn’t?

7. They’re pathologically confused.

No, they are not pathologically confused. You are. They know who they are, even if you don’t. In case anybody has any doubts, the American Psychological Association has not only validated transgenderTransgender Child identities as healthy, but has also provided a very helpful booklet of information for those who still don’t understand why transgender identity is good and healthy.

8. What about children and families?

I understand your apprehension. It seems like transgender people can’t or shouldn’t create families. The fact is, some of them do, and all of them have come from one. There are transgender men who bear and nurse children. Why should they be treated differently from other men? Because of their anatomy? Remember the woman who has had a hysterectomy. I understand that this seems silly and abstract, but think about it.

Those are among the many reasons why transphobia makes no sense. After reading about Evon Young’s horrific murder, I was paralysed with horror, but I figured that providing these points might help educate people about the real-life consequences of transphobia. It is not rational, good, or healthy to be cruel. Transgender people need our support, and wherever you meet a transgender person in need, give them the coat off your back.





Drag Queens out of Drag, in Drag!

7 05 2013

I’m happy, so I’m going to use Dragulator.

My hopes and dreams came true when Jinkx Monsoon won the crown on Season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I’ve been trying to pinpoint exactly why she resonates with me. Part of it is her slightly sloppy, adorably camp good humour, but it is also her rich understanding and appreciation of vintage drag and drag history–something to which more of us need to be exposed. I even liked the fact that her crown was slightly crooked when RuPaul placed it on her head. When I look at the “sleeper from Seattle”, I see Mae West after a rough night in bed. Everything about America’s first narcoleptic Jewish drag superstar–from her unfinished lady-of-the-night look to her comedic buffoonery–screams Pacific Northwest “realness”. To me that means liberal, relaxed, and willing to be yourself while letting others do the same.

Like Jinkx, I do believe we should take drag less seriously. That is, after all, why RuPaul herself created the Web site Dragulator, where you can take pictures of people’s faces and transform them into their drag alter ego. Since Season 5 of Drag Race is over, I thought I would try to deconstruct the very scrupulously crafted drag persona of each of the season’s royal triumvirate–Roxxxy Andrews, Alaska Thunderfuck, and Jinkx Monsoon–by taking photographs of them out of drag and then dragulating them! And how could I leave out the queen-bitch of them all, RuPaul? I bet she never imagined that scenario when she created Dragulator.

And with that let us commence with the dragulation!

1) Roxxxy Andrews

Roxxxy Fuck

Darling, you don’t look so bad-ass here! Your sartorial presentation is refined and polished, and you have much to teach about sewing and costume construction–but why are you trying to sneak away with Jinkx’s crown?

2) Alaska Thunderfuck

Alaska Thunderfuck Dragulator - Body

Hark! It is Alaska without a wig. You’ve turned trash into 1980s prom queen couture, darling! I can’t wait to see you dance to ‘You Spin Me Round’. How does it feel to be a cool high-school girl from the ’80s, garbage-hooker??

3) Jinkx Monsoon

Jinkx Monsoon Dragulator - Body

Oh, god. Jinkx, did somebody ask you to do blackface? Because that’s one area I don’t think you’ll master. The face doesn’t match the–oh, wait. That’s right. I matched your face with a black queen’s body on Dragulator. Somehow, though, I think you’ll pull through and render a masterpiece out of the random scraps and pieces.

4) RuPaul

RuPaul Dragulator - Body

Whoooaaagh, shit! Tell me one thing–how do you stick that wig on your head? Do you use Elmer’s Glue (which is apparently cruelty-free)? Do you use superglue? Because that would be very painful to tear off. I just want to know how you create that seamless melding between forehead and hair. It is an important part of drag.

Oh, wait. I forgot an important part of this post. Singer and songwriter Aubrey O’Day said she didn’t like Jinkx Monsoon. Well, how would this Playboy model like it if I took a picture of her without makeup and transformed her into drag?

Aubrey O'Day Dragulator - Body JPG

What’s wrong, Aubrey? Cat’s got your–oh, wait. Half of your head is gone. I guess it’s like when Uma Thurman sliced off Lucy Liu’s skull in Kill Bill, Vol. I. Well, some people deserve a lobotomy.

With that, I want to say that I appreciate the contribution of all three queens to drag history: Roxxxy’s professional pageantry, Alaska’s unabashed sordidness, and Jinkx’s subversive commentary on gender. All of these things open up our eyes. But, still, I want to know how RuPaul  puts her wig on. How? I wonder….





A Gay Man Celebrates International Women’s Day (and a Stupid Jerk Shits His Opinion)

9 03 2013

March is Women’s History Month. I want to focus on achievements, but sadly my attention is drawn to shitty American jock humour–which is everywhere. Did you notice how annoyingly stupid the introduction to the 2013 Academy Awards ceremony was? A song about boobs by cut-rate humourist Seth MacFarlane and his tuxedoed entourage?? Oh my goodness, the ice-cold glare launched by Charlize Theron could slice through diamond.

Charlize Theron Booby Song Oscars 2013

Well, I saw a refreshingly cool comment by psychic and medium Chip Coffey, who, in my opinion, reverberates with respectability, class, and integrity:

Chip Coffey International Women's Day Facebook





Drag Queen Jinkx Monsoon Talks Gender and Makeup Tips

14 02 2013

The fifth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race has commenced, and we are all dying to know which queens will make the cut to the much-relished triumvirate, let alone who will win the crown. I’ve actually had a hard time identifying the queen I think will win (in the past I’ve accurately predicted Raja and Sharon Needles), but I am quite enamoured with Seattle’s own Jinkx Monsoon. She’s just so bananas and full of character! And purpose.

I’m going to tell you why I think Jinkx is such a fascinating creature (and might deserve to win the crown), but first I want you to watch this video of her sharing her makeup tips as well as her ideas about gender, drag, and performance art:

The first thing that caught my attention were her thoughts on hyperfemininity in Hollywood films: “There are a lot of really hyperfeminine villains in American culture. I think we think that women can only be evil if they use their seduction to…gain status over their enemies.” I don’t think Jinkx is saying, “Hey, this is what women should be!” I think she is parodying traditional expectations of womanhood by making them look absurd and turning them on their heads by glorifying the traditionally scorned woman. Often, in drag, the “evil woman” is actually the misunderstood woman with a rich history that Jinkx Monsoon Seattle Drag Queen RuPaul's Drag Racedeserves exploration before fielding judgement.

I also appreciated Jinkx’s comments about drag as a performance art: “Beyond just the fact that you have to paint your face and change your body and step into this whole new skin…. It’s an art-form because it’s not just a form of self-expression, but it’s a forum for kind of discussing topics and bringing things to the foreground that you want people to start talking about. I think really good drag makes you think about something, just like any–any good spectacle or theatre piece or anything–they kind of make you take a look at something you may have not noticed yet.” This is precisely why drag is not just gender illusion–it is gender commentary. But it’s still fun to dress up, of course.

The most profound thing Jinkx says in her interview is about gender identity. “The best drag queens are commenting on gender Jinkx Monsoon Seattle Drag Queen RuPaul's Drag Race IIor sexuality. And when you’re playing a character, you can say things that you wouldn’t normally say as yourself. Like, I can call out all kinds of bullshit as Jinkx that I would never really talk about as myself.” In other words, men become drag queens to comment on the stupid ideas of sex roles produced largely in the middle twentieth century. But this aesthetic is also pretty, and they do celebrate that. It’s OK to be feminine too. Both are good.

Drag queens like Jinkx Monsoon are fascinating because they know what they are doing. They are sophisticated and ethereal about their craft, but they also know how to turn it out on-stage. Jinkx knows that she is mocking traditionally feminine roles while also celebrating the beauty of femininity–which is worthy. This is a hard line to walk, but I think she aces it.

Besides. My snitty-tits said so.